Richard Semrau was a high scoring power forward at Lutheran West High School in Ohio. He was getting playing time and asserting himself well as a freshman at Illinois before a freak injury that led to a major thoracic infection set him back. He was forced to leave school to recuperate, and it had a long-lasting impact on his basketball career.
"It was really tough going through that, being in the hospital, being at home for five weeks," Semrau described. "Not playing basketball for 3-4 months. It was really difficult for me to get by that.
"And after that I had more injuries. I sprained my MCL (medial collateral ligament in his knee), I had trouble with my foot. I've been out a lot. I've tried to get past that, but it just hasn't worked out like I wanted it."
Semrau was granted a redshirt year, but he recently made the decision to forego his remaining eligibility and go through Senior Day with Dominique Keller and Bubba Chisholm Saturday in his final home game.
"I haven't found the success I wanted. I've been here for awhile, and things aren't gonna change with (Mike) Tisdale, Mike Davis and Tyler (Griffey). I'm not really in the rotation anymore. So I guess it's time for me to move on.
"Tizzie is getting 85-90% of all the minutes as the five man, Mike Davis is the power forward, and with Tyler those three guys are combining for 100% of the minutes. So I don't see myself getting in there. I think it's futile for me to stay here and keep trying."
When it was obvious the Illini needed more help at center than power forward, Semrau bulked up and tried to learn the position. Briefly in the fall of 2008, he began to show assertiveness and a willingness to bang against rugged post players.
But after a few games, his playing time diminished to zero. He wasn't able to sustain the level of intensity needed, and his small hands and lack of leaping ability hurt his chances. His performance-related asthma was an unreported factor as well. He became the odd man out.
He made another effort this year, with the same results. His final decision came rather easily.
"It wasn't very hard. There were a few things that happened this season that let me give it a couple more shots. But after awhile, I realized my time was up."
Semrau was not encouraged to leave by the coaching staff or his parents. It was his decision entirely.
"Coach asked me what I wanted to do next year, and I said I wasn't coming back. He asked me if I'm sure, and I said I was.
"My parents fully support me. I'm a man now, and I have to make my own decisions and live with that. If they want to give me advice, I'm gonna take it. But at the end of the day it's what I want to do."
Semrau has plans to finish a Master's program at the U of I.
"I've started my Master's already in Community Resource Education. Organization development, business development, things of that nature."
Illinois coach Bruce Weber says Semrau will not receive an athletic scholarship since he won't be on the team. But he wants to help him if possible.
"We're doing some research on maybe getting him some NCAA grants to finish up his Masters. He said if he had to, he would pay for it."
Weber respects Semrau's decision and is sorry things didn't work out better for him.
"Rich has had a tough time, starting with the freshman year being sick. He had a couple nice moments for us last year, he's just got beaten out. I think Rich has been a very positive person for us this year. He's had a great attitude. I couldn't feel better about him.
"He said the right thing, he knows basketball, he's an intelligent young man. He really has his degree done, he just has one class and is working on his Masters. He was done in 3 and one half years. That's a great thing."
Despite the lack of playing time, Semrau has good memories of his time at Illinois.
"Absolutely, a lot of great memories here. Some not so great, but the positive definitely outweighs the negative."
With each passing day, the end draws nearer. He still has hope for his team as the season winds down.
"I just want us to do as good as we can, win these last couple games, make a good run in the Big 10 Tournament. Hopefully make a good run in the NCAA Tournament."
Semrau wonders how his career might have progressed if his fresman injury and illness hadn't occurred. But he has no regrets.
"I'll miss the guys, I'll miss the team. I don't want to regret anything I did or didn't do. I'm just gonna keep a positive attitude about it and move on."